George Burley outlined his plans for tonight's World Cup qualifier against Iceland in the bar at Dumbarton's ground, where Scotland train. He insisted he is not in the last chance saloon, but rather a young manager with a young squad who will stay as long as he is wanted. But nobody is pretending that this evening's match is anything but a win-or-bust fixture as far as South Africa 2010 is concerned.
"Must win," Burley himself has said. The table shows why; just two goals and four points from four games, and a four-way scrap for second place.
Tonight, then, is all about Burley ignoring diplomacy to impose his will, and his alone, via his selection and his instructions. Tough decisions lie ahead, like the probable reinstatement of Craig Gordon instead of Rangers' Allan McGregor in goal, and the possible dropping of two other Rangers men, the Scotland captain Barry Ferguson and striker Kenny Miller. None of them did anything especially wrong in the 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Saturday but then none of them shone. Burley refused to talk about individuals but he hinted that unpopular decisions lie ahead by saying: "I can't be cautious. I have to be bold."
Burley wants width and pace, and to maximise scoring chances against Iceland, the only team Scotland have beaten so far in his eight games in charge. "We need people to take players on in wide areas and have players who are hungry to score goals, full-backs who want to overlap, a fluid team," he said. "There is no point in having any regrets."
Taking Burley at his word, a team with width and overlapping full-backs and plenty of potential goalscorers would need to have at least two strikers up front, with other attack-minded players in midfield. It would not look too different in shape and intent, if not personnel, from the Hearts side he fielded so successfully, if briefly, at the start of the 2005-06 Scottish Premier League campaign. They blazed an unlikely trail, adding up to more than the sum of their parts, and Burley must now conjure a similar trick from a similarly limited pool of talent at his disposal.
The same goalkeeper he used then, Gordon, can feature now, behind a Scotland defence that will be strengthened this evening by the return of Stephen McManus and Alan Hutton, the latter an overlapping full-back. Scott Brown in a notional holding role has the energy to work across midfield, while James Morrison and Steven Fletcher can add width on either side of Darren Fletcher, probably leaving no place for Ferguson.
Burley needs goals, and if he goes with those who have been scoring most, Ross McCormack and Chris Iwelumo, with 34 goals between them this season for their respective clubs, Cardiff and Wolves, should be the pairing. Will it happen? Nobody but Burley knows yet. But at his word, something adventurous will transpire: "It's one of those where we've got to go for it."
Scotland (possible, 4-1-3-2): Gordon (Sunderland); Hutton (Tottenham), Caldwell, McManus (both Celtic), Naysmith (Sheffield United); Brown (Celtic); Morrison (West Bromwich), D Fletcher (Manchester United), S Fletcher (Hibernian); McCormack (Cardiff), Iwelumo (Wolves).
Iceland (possible 4-4-1-1): Gunnleifsson (Vaduz); Steinsson (Bolton), K Sigurdsson (Brann), Hreidarsson (Portsmouth), Eiriksson (Valur); Saevarsson (Brann), A Gunnarsson (Coventry), Jonsson (Hearts), Hallfredsson (Reggina); Gudjohnsen (Barcelona); Helguson (QPR).
Referee: T Einwaller (Austria).
Scotland results: Macedonia 1 Scotland 0, Iceland 1 Scotland 2, Scotland 0 Norway 0, Netherlands 3 Scotland 0.
Remaining fixtures: Tonight Scotland v Iceland, 12 Aug Norway v Scotland, 5 Sep Scotland v Macedonia, 9 Sep Scotland v Netherlands.
Number of Scotland wins under George Burley since his appointment in January 2008.Reuse content